Friday, October 4, 2013

England: From Plane to Thatched Cottages

 I wondered what it would be like. For years I've wanted to see England, to walk in the places my mother walked, to find where she and my father met and fell in love. I wondered if it was really as beautiful as she described it and if I would feel at home there.

We began planning this trip in February. Our oldest son surprised us at Christmas with a gift of tickets to any place in the world we wanted to go (with a certain dollar limit, of course!). I knew immediately where that place was: England.

When to go? That's a problem when you have a garden, critters, and storytelling to consider. Spring would have been nice but I needed to get my ID documents in order--starting with an official birth certificate, replacement Social Security card and updated driver's license that showed our new address (we didn't move, but all roads were named and addresses assigned as part of a project to make emergency services faster). Once all those papers were in place, we needed to get our passports, and allow time for them to arrive.

We considered traveling in the summer but with the gardens in full swing and my usually hectic storytelling schedule, we ruled out summer pretty quickly. Fall then? Friends and relatives advised that after mid-September prices on fares and hotels dropped. October is usually a busy month for me, so we finally zeroed in on late September-early October.

Getting ready for a trip is a process, isn't it? Get all the bills paid up, as much laundry done as possible. Pack and weigh and repack suitcases (I did mine at least 10 times, trying to get the right combination as I watched weather reports for Britain). Hold the mail. Get someone to take care of the animals and watch after the place. Notify our booths that we'd be gone and couldn't be reached for prices, etc. Arrange to get booth rents paid. Clean the house, because there are few things worse than coming home tired to chaos. Write down phone numbers. Print travel information, tickets, etc. Double-check flight times. Arrange to be dropped off and picked up. Figure out what money is needed and how to access it.

Lots of stuff on that to-do list. And if you're wondering why I wasn't sharing all this on my blog, it was because in these times it didn't seem prudent to let the wider world know our house would be vacant. So I tried my best to keep it quiet, although I was bursting at the seams with joy and anticipation.

The day arrived; Derek drove us to the airport for the red-eye flight. We were traveling first to Charlotte, NC, then to Dublin, Ireland, and then catching a flight on a discount line to London, saving about $500 on our tickets this way. The red-eye was no fun, I can tell you. Cramped, noisy, uncomfortable, but we were so excited I think we'd have sat on the floor.

We landed in Dublin at 7:00am, just as day was beginning to break so we could see little as we flew over that island. But as we flew over England, little glimpses of a green, green land began to be visible.

When we arrived at Stanstead Airport near London I wondered if my cousin would have any trouble finding us. No worries--he was there as soon as we came though the doors.

What a pleasure it was to see Les again after 30+ years! Talk came easily and quickly; it seemed like we'd just seen each other a few days before.

England was everything I expected, and more. I was surprised by the traffic, and even more by the roundabouts! I was glad that Les would be with us to do the driving because I think there would have been some bumps and bangs if I had attempted it. I knew England would be green and well-kept, but to know something and to actually see it are two different things. The gardens were like little jewels of green and color. I recognized many plants that also grow here, but saw many that were new to me. Another surprise was the apples, growing wild along the roadsides and loaded with fruit. Blackberries and elderberries were also profuse and ready for the picking, and we saw several people out gathering them.

There were lots of little things that were markedly different from the States. Coffee, my sister had warned me, is completely different from American coffee. It's stronger, more like espresso and seems to be made usually in a machine like an espresso. We stuck mostly to tea--guaranteed to be excellent anywhere we went. Bathroom light switches in the homes we visited were a string that ran up the wall to the light--effective and simple. Many items, from appliances to vehicles, seemed designed with an environmental viewpoint: England is not just physically green, it's mentally green too. People recycled, rode bikes or walked, drove small, efficient cars. Many homes had solar collectors on their roofs and we saw several wind generator farms.

 I was impressed by how fit the people were; even people of my age were out riding their bikes or walking briskly.

There are many public walking and bridlepaths providing beautiful scenery, and these seem to be well used. It made me wonder what we're doing wrong here, with the obesity rate being what it is. I think it is a combination of inactivity, large portions, a corn-based diet, and reliance on fast foods that cause the problem and  we resolved to return home and make some changes in our own lifestyle. Even active as we are, the Brits could walk rings around us.

I've often seen photos of picturesque villages with half-timbered houses, thatched roofs and quaint stone and brick buildings, and I assumed that these were photos taken in a few "tourist" villages and were not the norm. It's never good to assume; these kinds of buildings were everywhere and people were still living in some homes that are well over 500 years old. We even saw one thatched roof in the process of being repaired. These homes are taken care of and repaired as needed and continue to be viable, comfortable shelters.This was the first of many I saw, and I was so excited I asked Les to pull over so I could take a picture. Later I was to see many more, but I never got over the amazement at seeing old technology alive and well and continuing to be part of life in the garden that is England.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


warren said...

How exciting! I can't wait to see the next phase! Welcome home btw said...

Oh, you lucky (blessed) duck!!! England? Oh my my my! I have missed so much on your blog, and I'm so sorry, but I just don't have the spare time to read and enjoy like I used to when we first started our blogging journeys. I'm so proud of you and envious at the same time that you committed to walk where your mother walked. My maternal grandmother grew up in Denmark, and I've always secretly dreamed of going there; but I'm not a very good airplane traveler, and unrest makes me nervous to leave our country. So I will vicariously enjoy your trip to the Old World!! Thanks for visiting my blog again today, Sue! BW

Susan Atkinson said...

Sue--this was exactly my reaction when I visited England a few years ago. We were just starting to think green in America, and in England they were completely involved. The thatched roofs, the villages, the trails, the stone fences--I couldn't get over it. The most amazing thing to me was the sheer "oldness" of everything. We saw an inn that had been "rebuilt" in 1492. Wow. I would go back in a New York Minute!

Anonymous said...

Home, that is what it was to me as well. And the connectedness (I know that isn't a word but it is what I mean) with our cousins. There was never an awkward moment, being able to talk with them as though we had been doing that for years is a special family love and it was the same with our aunts. Somehow, even though we had been separated by oceans and years, there was that connection that went back to our genes. I am so glad you were able to go and I am looking forward to your stories as well. Love

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

One piece of new technology is alive and well too, Sue; I've just been up to Hunstanton to pick up the phone you left there. Will mail it to you soon as possible,
Cousin John

Hidden Trails Stables said...

Theresa and I stayed in a thatched cottage that was built in the 16TH CENTURY when we visited England--an amazing experience on top of just being in England. You're right--the way everything is preseved there is something. I couldn't get over the cathedrals and churches and castles, dating back hundreds of years. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Granny Sue said...

Thanks, John! My phone will probably have stories all of its own by the time it gets back to me. I just hope it hasn't been calling Russia in the meantime ;)

Granny Sue said...

BW, I understand--I have so little time now to keep up with all the blogs I love; I just have to be content with stopping in once in a while and catching up. One day, though, I'm coming to your bayou--that's on my bucket list!

Granny Sue said...

Susan, you're exactly right. The oldness, and yet so well kept. It is really something to see.

Granny Sue said...

Theresa and Judy, I see a sister trip in the future. I think we'd be all over that place! I really would like more time with cousin Julie too. She loves her "girl cousins" coming over.

Michelle said...

When I was a young child, we lived in England, as my father was in the Air Force. I have always wanted to go back. I do hope you will share all about your adventures!

Rowan said...

I'm glad you liked England and enjoyed your trip over here. I think when you live here you don't always appreciate the old buildings as much as visitors do, they're just part of the landscape. As for being active, I think older people here probably are more active than their American counterparts. I've always walked a lot, I'm 67 now and still do 2 or 3 miles every morning up on the moors with the dog, often I do another 2 or 3 miles in the afternoon as well. It only takes an hour or so to do that distance and being hilly it keeps me pretty fit.

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